As we go on each day, sometimes we still close our eyes, search our hearts and reminisce about the days when we felt the selfless agape love, warm hugs and inspiring stories that never failed to strengthen us. Those were the days when kingdom smiles were a part of our attires and such days truly marked an exceptional milestone in our lives.
More than 2 weeks have already passed but we still cannot get over the international brotherhood we experienced. The Special Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses 2013 held in Manila, Philippines was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the local Filipinos as they get to portray their inherent hospitality and warmth. It was, however, an experience that created a permanent mark in the hearts of delegates from USA, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other countries; as they experienced the look-and-feel of Filipino culture and ministry.
As a couple, we made ourselves available for pre/post-convention activities. Months of training, orientations, meetings and personal study prepared us to become equipped with the right skills and tools. Have I mentioned that our roles as volunteers were not ‘inherently’ owned? But with the guidance of the Special Convention Desk and with Jehovah’s help, we were able to do our share. Staying late until the wee hours of the morning welcoming delegates at the airport was a very challenging but fun-filled experience. We had to ensure that we abide by the necessary permits and limitations at the airport. The flight itinerary was a necessity as we have to ensure that the delegates arrive safely in Manila. When we saw badge cards and kingdom smiles, which is worthy of notice, it seemed that we all gained a big amount of energy that we jumped, waved and zealously displayed the banner which says “WELCOME DELEGATES!” We then led them to the hotel lounges for them to be safely transported to respective hotels.
On some days, we became part of the Welcome Desk at The Bellevue Manila Hotel. The ‘graveyard shift’, as we call it, was an assignment that required considerable physical and mental effort. There were days when we went straight to this assignment coming from our secular jobs. It was quite challenging as sometimes we get to stay until the clock ticked early morning. But it was all worth it when we saw the foreign delegates arrive with a beaming face and a story to tell from various parts of the world. We ensured that they were provided with the welcome kit, inclusive of tokens and necessary items that they’ll need for their stay. In case the delegates have inquiries about a certain activity or so, member of the Welcome Desk were always available at the hotel lobby. During these times, a simple “Thank you/ Terima kasih/ Cám ơn” was all enough to wipe the drowsiness away. Some even tried their own version of “Salamat!”. Every arrival of a group seemed to add an ounce of strength as we stayed awake all night. I cannot forget how one American sister, weary and tired from a 25-hour flight, handed out a calling card to me. Upon looking at it, the word “PAG-IBIG!” was written to show how much we meant to her. She has studied this certain Filipino word and sketched it upon arrival just for the volunteers. How heartwarming!
The delegates were also given options to go on tours (City Tour, Bethel and Assembly Hall, Hidden Valley or Corregidor Island and Las Casas Tour). A day before the convention, we were assigned to be tour guides for the Corregidor & Las Casas Tour. This was one great responsibility as we had to secure the safety of the delegates and ensure that the trip would be a successful and seamless one. We headed on to Corregidor and Las Casas de Azucar in Bataan. A bus ride, followed by a more-than-an-hour- ferry ride, and then a jeepney ride; made the trip an unforgettable one for delegates. As tour guides, we had to ensure that our commentaries present a 70-30 content (70% theocratical and 30% secular info). A family worship (inclusive of games and stories) was also conducted during the ferry ride. Food was abundant (not to mention the surprise cultural dance in Las Casas restaurant), weather was great and the Bataan local congregation was very accommodating. During the trip, personal talks with each of the delegates also paved the way for more commentaries - sharing experiences in the ministry and how each of us overcame challenges in our service. One certain tête-à-tête with an Indonesian teenager delegate inspired me to look for territories where the need is greater. She mentioned about how Muslims (majority of population in Indonesia) were interested, not in the Bible, but in current affairs. They use that common ground for interested ones to learn the truth. I also shared with her the jail ministry which I have tried (and how some inmates were baptized upon studying the Bible). It was a joy to be with someone from a different country and background, but shares the same theocratic goal with you. Time was not enough as we already arrived at our destination, but that less-than-an-hour connection built the bridge for our international friendship.
We were aware of the fact that the jeepney ride was bumpy, the ferry ride caused nausea to many and that at times, the sun was extremely hot for long walks. However, these things did not hinder the group from enjoying the Filipino culture as reflected by the ruins in Corregidor and the ancient Spanish architecture in Las Casas. But most important of all, it was a joy to see ‘how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.’ (Psalms 133:1)
What happened on the 3-day convention in Cuneta Astrodome was beyond words (and beyond pictures!). The spiritual feast was bountiful and it really proved that “God’s Word is Truth.”
On the last day of the convention, an Evening Gathering was held at Bellevue for some delegates. Registration started at 6PM but as early as 4PM, delegates were ready to register and enter the ballroom! Way too excited! It was really a privilege to be part of this event. The Entertainment Group (from various congregations) practiced for months and devoted their resources to be able to make the delegates feel accommodated. Song Number 134 was played and every single attendee of the gathering sang their hearts out. Tears of joy and laugher filled the air. We realized that the official convention week had ended, but the memories remained.
As the delegate sister seated next to me said, “I am sooo happy! When I get back home in the States, I cannot fully explain the total experience and the feeling I had. All I can do is show them the pictures and share the stories. But the real experience? It’s here. And I will forever treasure it! I love Philippines!”
From time to time, my husband and I still reminisce these experiences. Sometimes we found ourselves teary-eyed, but most of the time we found ourselves beaming with a Kingdom smile. We look forward to the next international convention or assignment, when we can again express the words “Here I am! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8